It’s official: #FirstDayOfSchool2016 is trending. Summer is culturally over in the U.S. –– marking a shift in mindset for retailers across the globe.
As the “slow” season draws to a close and the busiest time of the year quickly approaches, there is one lingering question all brands must answer: are you ready for the holiday season?
For most, the answer is a resounding “not yet,” which means there is no better time than now to start.
You don’t want to miss promotional opportunities, sales or revenue, especially to your competitors who may have started preparing already.
That said, we have now entered the planning phase –– arguably the most important part of a successful season.
Creativity is key in order to win mindshare. Yet, channel distribution is necessary in order to win sales. This is a balancing act between marketing and operations –– two retail departments continuing to better blend as consumer expectations demand seamless experiences.
Knowing this, we consulted with 20 of the top ecommerce marketers, agencies, consultants and brands in order to gauge how your teams should be allocating resources across departments and customer touch points. In speaking to these experts, four areas of concentration emerged. We’ve ordered them in priority based on the number of respondents that spoke to each need.
Prepare Early (You’re Already Late!)
Alex Birkett, Growth Marketer and Content Strategist, ConversionXL
Holiday campaigns are by nature short term. So if you’re running a promotion and you decide to A/B test it (instead of just guessing what will work), then by the time the test is valid and the results are actionable, the holidays are over and the learnings are no longer ‘exploitable’ (meaning you can’t really extrapolate the learnings beyond that short time period).
So for holiday campaigns, and other short term campaigns, try using bandit algorithms, or at least some other form of adaptive dynamic programing. Instead of running a controlled experiment in which traffic is divided equally over the course of the test and then everything is allocated to the winner at the end, bandits work in real time to shift traffic towards the winning variation. People refer to this as “earning while you learn.”
You can easily set up bandit tests using a tool like Conductrics.
Chad White, Research Director, Litmus
Start planning now! The majority of brands don’t plan their holiday email marketing campaigns more than two months in advance, according to our State of Email Production report. That’s a missed opportunity, given how much revenue is at stake and the additional production workload that occurs during the holiday season.
On average, retailers increase their email frequency to their subscribers by roughly 50% during November and December, compared to non-holiday months. That’s a lot of extra emails that have to get designed, coded and QAed. Starting early can help marketers avoid rushing later.
Jamie Turner, CEO, 60 Second Marketer
This advice is going to seem pretty fundamental and straightforward, but it can also save you tons of stress and can prevent needless mistakes. As most marketers know, the #1 cause of chaos in preparing any campaign is when you get a late start. There’s nothing worse than trying to make a deadline under duress. It creates unnecessary stress and leads to mistakes that are easily avoidable.
So, as fundamental as it may seem, my piece of advice is to get a head start. It’ll save you (and your colleagues) plenty of heartache. And, since you’ll be ahead of the curve, you’ll have time to step back, take a look at what you’re doing, and then make tweaks and improvements before launching.
Getting a head start. Crazy, I know. But it works!
Jason Dea, Director of Product Marketing, Intelex Technologies
One of the most universal pieces of business advice I’ve ever gotten was this: Something is better than nothing.
This is particularly true when it comes to holiday marketing. The key to success during the holiday season is to make sure everything you should have done is already done. The marketing that will make a real impact on your holiday results is the marketing you do leading up to, rather than during the season.
The holidays will very well be your peak season. This is when your focus should be on operations and execution. With all the time you’ll be spending (ideally) on fulfilling orders and dealing with customer inquiries, the last thing you’ll want to be doing is tweaking your marketing campaigns.
So that referral marketing program you want to have up and running, the customer reviews you want posted, your email nurturing program, and your site’s SEO –– all of these program are what you should be worrying about now (months in advance). This way, by the time the holiday season arrives, marketing optimization should be well off the ground, freeing you up to focus on all of the other aspects of running your business.
Jeff Sauer, Founder and Lead Instructor, Jeffalytics
My best advice for brands to execute a successful holiday marketing campaign is to start early! If you start your marketing plan in November, the holidays will be over before you have insights into performance or have the chance to optimize.
The sooner you can test messages, creative and email strategies, the sooner you can make the adjustments necessary to significantly improve your results. This involves being flexible, open to new ideas, and planning out actions that you will take when certain scenarios occur. Plan early. Plan often. Plan to succeed!
Jana Skulinova, Marketing Manager, MonkeyData
The one best piece of advice I can provide is to prepare well in advance.
Keep in mind that there will be even more day-to-day operations work during the holiday season, so it’s best to have everything marketing-related in place beforehand. Here are the most important things you should be preparing before the holiday season.
Ensure you have the bandwidth for traffic spikes: Check the past performance of your website against seasonal spikes in traffic. Be sure that you have the bandwidth to handle this extra traffic and that your site performs well under the extra pressure. If your website is slow or crashes, you will lose customers (many of whom may have turned out to be returning customers). Keep your average page loading time under three seconds –– under two, if possible.
Make certain your inventory is ready: The holidays are the most important time to be paying attention to inventory forecasting. Develop a robust forecast of which products will sell at which time, and allow sufficient lead times to get your products in. Late-arriving products can cause other problems for your operations and create problems down the whole chain.
Bring on additional staff to handle increased orders: Calculate staff capacity and ensure that it can handle the worst-case scenario. This goes for handling orders (a very time-consuming process) as well as answering customer queries. Shipping orders quickly will keep those customers coming back. Aim to keep your average shipping time consistent during the holiday season. Also, answering those customer queries faster will lead to higher conversion rates. After all, it’s easy for customers to switch to a competitor during the frenzy of the holiday rush.
Email marketing: Do you have a list of buyers who might be ready to come back? Maybe they just haven’t thought about you for awhile. The holiday season is the best time to hit them up again. This is a great opportunity to leverage your holiday promotions and of course, use great holiday-related content to entice people to shop.
Pay-per-click advertising: Although there will be a lot of competition from other retailers during the holiday season, this is a great opportunity to attract new buyers to your store, especially if you launch your campaigns early. Highlight your promotions and offers in order to attract buyers.
Richard Lazazzera, Founder, A Better Lemonade Stand
Being an entrepreneur and managing a million things means lots of tasks tend to fall through the cracks and sometimes, even important things like holiday planning for your online store gets pushed to the back burner.
With the holiday season being on the the most lucrative time of the year for ecommerce, it’s something that deserves extra attention and preparation.
So when should you begin your holiday promotional planning?
It turns out, you should have already begun. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Google Trends for last year. As shocking as it is, consumers started searching for “Christmas Gift Ideas” in the middle of August. Yup. You’re already behind.
If you’re going to take full advantage of Q4 and all the holidays it has to offer your online business, you need to begin preparing and planning immediately.
The best way to get started is to map out a promotional calendar. Start by printing out a calendar of the last three months of the year, and reviewing all the holidays in that three month period that you want to participate in.
From there, work backwards to identify when promotional graphics need to be created, when email copy needs to be written, when those emails need to go out, etc.
Starting now and mapping important dates on a calendar can go a long way in helping you prepare, allowing you to take full advantage of the increased consumer spending habits of the holiday season.
Ryan BeMiller, Founder, Shopping Signals
My advice is to be prepared. Preparation for a holiday ecommerce marketing campaign should at least include the following activities:
Schedule your campaign activities: From creative, to technical, to launch, it’s critical that campaign activities are scheduled well in advance, with plenty of buffer room for the inevitable hurdles that you’ll face.
Make sure you’ll be adequately staffed: Increased activity means increased need for customer service and fulfillment staff. Make sure you’ll be ready. Customers don’t care that your order volume is the cause of slower response times. They expect the same level of service all year long. Consider adding live chat. This is a great way to address customer concerns and keep them moving down the funnel.
Give your site a festive, holiday feel: This tends to heighten the emotional shopping experience, which can boost conversions!
Feature your top sellers and offer gift suggestions.
Figure out your holiday shipping deadlines and plan to post them prominently: This is both helpful as well as adds a subtle bit of urgency, which is a conversion booster. Plus, it’ll mean fewer headaches on the fulfillment side.
Determine which channels to focus on: Will it be email, blog posts, Facebook ads, etc.? Get a clear picture of your channels so you can develop strategies for each, and perhaps an overall strategy that makes them all a cohesive unit.
Develop landing pages for specific products and promotions: These convert much better than a standard product detail page.
Track your results: Make sure you’re tracking individual campaigns and channels, as well as money in vs money out.
Make Customer Loyalty a KPI (And Set Yourself Up for Q1 Success)
Alex McEachern, Loyalty Marketing Specialist, SweetTooth
Your traffic and sales will be at an all time high during the holiday rush, so make sure you set yourself up for both short and long term success. It is easy to get wrapped up in the moment and only focus on the now, but don’t forget that you can also create future value from these holiday shoppers.
Holiday promotions that run discounts and sales usually generate price-sensitive shoppers that only buy from you once. They buy from you during the holidays and never return again! Using retention tactics like a loyalty program as part of your holiday promotion helps you now, and in a slower Q1.
Give those holiday shoppers points now so that they will want to come back and spend in the future. Issuing points as part of a loyalty program is an effective way to both encourage sales during the rush and bring those shoppers back sooner during what is usually the slowest time of the year. You win now and you win later.
Ashley Suarez Wood, Content Marketer, Packlane
The holidays are a stressful time for many people, so my best advice is to offer a service that relieves some of that stress, while simultaneously bringing a smile to your customer’s face.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve confined my gift search to one or two online stores, simply because they were offering easy, fast shipping or because I knew the item would arrive wrapped to perfection.
In my opinion, anything you can do to make your customers’ lives easier will lead you to a successful holiday campaign. From discounts on overnight shipping to spot-on gift guide content that reduces decision-making, your customers will appreciate that you were there for them during crunch time and made the whole shopping frenzy a little less…well, frenzied.
Don’t forget, this is also a great chance to up your delight factor while not having to commit to ‘extras’ all year long. Consider your campaign creative. Throw in a custom ornament that matches the aesthetic of your digital promotions, send a quirky holiday e-greeting, or design vibrant holiday packaging –– it will all go a long way towards making the season a little brighter, and your brand all the more memorable.
Raheem Sarcar, Founder and CEO, RewardCamp
The biggest mistake that retailers make when executing a holiday marketing campaign is lacking a nurturing system that converts new customers acquired from holiday promotions into repeat buyers.
There’s a very good chance that a customer who bought from you during a ‘back to school’ or mother’s day promotion will return and buy again. But they will return only if you have a nurturing system in place.
I’ve seen retailers increase repeat business by 300% as a result of converting new customers into repeat customers.
The good news is that it can take very little work to nurture new customers. One of the most effective ways to nurture customers is by implementing a customer friendly loyalty app.
A good loyalty app will do two things very well:
It will make it easy for customers to earn rewards
It will nurture them into returning whenever they are ready to buy again.
With a good loyalty program in place, retailers can get a bigger bang from their holiday promotions.
Sarah George, Enterprise Account Manager, BigCommerce
Know your goal. Do you want to drive an increase in new customers, average number of order items, average order value, etc? If you’re using using coupons or discounts to drive this, make sure that you’re assessing their success in achieving that goal by tracking data points throughout the season.
Even when the holidays have passed, don’t underestimate the value of remarketing to holiday buyers year round to convert them into loyal repeat purchasers.
Susannah Morris, Industries Marketing Specialist, Hubspot
To execute on a successful holiday marketing campaign, you need to think big picture. Too often brands get tunnel vision and only focus on short term customer acquisition over the holidays.
For you to have a truly successful holiday season, consider how you’re going to engage with holiday customers in the longer term and keep them coming back. Focus on customer lifetime value, instead of one-time customer acquisition.
Timi Garai, Content Marketer, Antavo
Really get into the spirit! Capturing attention and being thankful to your customers is a great way to inspire their love, far beyond the holiday season. Personalization can really make a difference here, too. Use what a certain customer is interested in, what kind of product she or he has purchased before. Think: what kind of data could you collect about them to send them as relevant offers as possible?
Joel Cherrico, Founder, Cherrico Pottery
Our holiday sales grow every year because we experiment respectfully. We raise and lower prices on new mug styles. We use video and stunning photography to bring customers inside our studio by simply opening an email or checking out our Facebook page.
We remind customers of our massive accomplishments, like our pottery Guinness World Record. We give them amazing deals that sell out in a day or two. Our team does whatever we can to help customers understand that we are giving them remarkable deals on functional artwork that is truly world-class.
Focus on Standing Out (Storytelling Required)
Andrew Youderian, Founder, EcommerceFuel
Over the busy holidays, and especially over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, your customers’ inboxes are going to be slammed with emails, offers and promotions. It’s all too easy for them hit the “Delete” key and move on with their lives.
So, make it hard to do!
Create a funny, clever or otherwise engaging holiday campaign that grabs their interest from the first email subject line and keeps them wondering when you’ll be mailing again. Do whatever you can to rise above the fold. Discounting is an option, but a much better one is humor, newly released products or a compelling storyline.
Luke Guy, Blogger and Entrepreneur, LukeGuy.com
Spend more time studying the trends of your customers. The biggest weakness of most campaigns is research.
Study your keywords that will be your core for SEO. If you could label your campaign in one word, what would it be?
Try to narrow in on your focus. Have your strategy ready and when your dates arrive, execute everything you planned.
Be creative, and most of all, ask yourself this: What will your competition be doing? Then from there, study how you can differentiate and stand out. The goal shouldn’t be more revenue, but instead, more fans that love you.
Zach Heller, Marketing Consultant, Zach Heller Marketing
The most important thing for any brand wishing to execute an effective holiday marketing campaign is this: every other company is trying to do the same thing.
When customers are bombarded with messaging from 100 different companies, the key to success is standing out from the crowd. Dare to be different. With humor, or messaging, or timing or mode of contact.
Take a risk and do something that no other company will do. That’s how your offer will stand out among the rest.
Launch a Channel Strategy Now (Or Lose Out on Sales Later)
Daniel Clutterbuck, Ecommerce and Social Media Strategy Consultant
You’re looking to gain some reach and big exposure these holidays right? Have you considered Instagram?
Startups and established brands utilize what are called “influencers” to promote their content to the masses. To make sure you get it right and don’t waste too much money, remember the following tips:
Understand your target demographic/ persona
Research pages that your target persona may follow
Look at who has tagged your competitors by clicking the tag link on their Instagram page
Search on hashtags that describe your product e.g #reddress
When you find an influencer, scrutinise their engagement. People buy follows and likes these days so a great way to spot a true influencer is by the amount of comments they have.
Get prices off them and negotiate! Never accept the first offer!
Campaigns work better when you pull back the trigger on a few, then BANG! Release them all at once within a 24 hour period. I call this a “Blitz Campaign” and they work ridiculously well.
Brands just like yours are running influencer campaigns across a multitude of pages on Instagram. They range from bloggers to what I call “sector pages” (for example, fashion, quotes, fitness). These aren’t people, they are brands in and of themselves. They charge the cheapest and you can reach a high number of people.
Think out of the box when you’re looking and if you want to ask me any questions, tweet me on @DCLUTT or check out my IG page (113k followers).
David Potts, CEO, SalesWarp
Don’t expect your customer to only purchase in the channel you expected. Consumers increasing move across a variety of online and offline sales channels. Whatever you choose to market should be readily available for purchase at every channel (in-store, online, etc.) or you are wasting marketing dollars, while driving your customers straight to the competition!
To maximize the impact of your marketing spend, you need to have inventory from all locations ready, visible and available in real time on whatever channel the customer wants to purchase from. To reach consumers in these buying moments, marketing cannot exist in a silo; it needs to be integrated with other business operations. Then, retailers can plan their holiday campaigns with confidence knowing they will maximize sales across all sales channels while creating much happier customers.
So anticipate that your marketing will work, but it will drive orders across many channels, and you need to be ready with the multi-channel, real-time inventory and fulfillment systems to ensure an excellent customer experience, increased sales, and continued brand loyalty.